As planned, I begin my day at Slough. It's lovely here but we do not find wolves this morning. At least the rain holds off! The signals for both black males are good and steady, but they have found a spot where we cannot see them.
Around 6:30 we are serenaded by a chorus of coyotes, then see two of them moving down from the hills across the road to the river. We watch them roam around the curves of the river, and realize they are probably looking for goslings! But the adult geese are very protective.
We hear about an elk carcass fairly close to the road that the Agates got last night. Wolves were seen on it early this morning but it's probably already too late to see them. I go up there, anyway, just in case.
The location is a few turns above my favorite napping spot in the turn-around pullout. There are many people here and I can see the carcass out there with birds on it, but even the Agates, whose females, at least, are fairly road-adjusted would not risk feeding so close to the pavement. And I doubt the two Mollies that now make up the male contigent of this pack would be comfortable here, except in darkness.
The people are well behaved, though, and take care to park off the road and not obstruct traffic.
So I head back down and explore the Blacktail a bit, hoping to run into 302's family. Instead I find more bears! There is a single black bear in a tree near the Petrified Tree road, which is blocked by thoughtless drivers, so I watch the action through my scope from the end of the Blacktail road. The bear seems to be asleep, though, and only lifts its head now and then. I guess it is a youngster out on his/her own this year.
Then I see another lone black from lower Elk Creek, out in the meadow that leads down to the stage-coach area. I only see him for a quick minute before he disappears over the hill.
I slow down to watch a coyote mousing in the meadow where we saw the Chistmas bear. As I round the curve, I slam on my brakes because a visitor is crossing the road with his camera, stalking the coyote. In addition, he has left his car in the road, straddling the yellow line!
I head to the next pullout to turn around and by the time I get back the man has returned to his car and drives on, giving me a quick sheepish glance. He is damn lucky mine was the only other vehicle that came by! And of course, you know there is a perfectly lovely pullout on the right which he could have used instead. Aiiiiiii!
I follow this nut through the Blacktail and keep thinking about what to say to him but then he pulls into Hellroaring and there are other cars there, so I decide to let it go.
My next stop is in Little America at Aspen, where some bison and calves are resting, relatively close. Then I go on to the lower lot at Slough and to my delight I find Laurie & Dan.
They have arrived back in the Park from their haitus in San Diego. It's so great to see them again. I also meet some wolf-fan friends of theirs: Christie and her husband, from the UK.
But there are no wolves in sight. Signals are good but they remain frustratingly hidden.
As usual, we scope in other areas and Dan finds a grizzly over on Crystal. This bear delights us with his playful antics. He sits on the green hill with his hind legs out in front of him, then reaches over with his forepaws to grab his toes. He rocks like this, looking utterly adorable. I wonder if this is a young adult on his own for the first time?
I tell Dan & Laurie that for the last several days I have heard visitors talk about a female grizzly with three cubs of the year. She has been seen on both sides of Divide Ridge, but each time she has appeared I have been elsewhere and missed her. Well, soon after this, we hear a fresh report of her being seen from Fisherman's so all three of us head over there.
When we arrive, a group of Englishmen tell me she has just gone out of sight! Ahh! I just don't have my usual luck this trip! So I check on the old carcass that my sisters and I saw on Saturday, hoping for wolves or bears to appear. Then one of the Englishmen taps me on the shoulder and points up on the slope. "Your bear is back" he says.
Sure enough, I see a good-sized grizzly sow with three tiny cubs. From this distance, they almost seem to be dark furry pom-poms dangling from her body. I just love seeing bear cubs, especially the little ones. To me, there is nothing so cute as a bear cub.
To our delight, the sow heads for a garage-sized patch of snow still clinging to the hill. She starts across it diagonally and stops about half way. Her paws leave deep impressions in the mushy snow. One of her cubs takes a chance and slides on his butt down the snow-patch. Wheeeee!
The sow waits for her truant to gallop back to the family, then she sits down and we realize she is nursing her babes. I bet the snow feels good to her as her triplets snuggle up to her chest. It is a sweet picture.
After a few minutes of maternal bliss, the sow rolls over and continues across the hill, but she now has a passenger on her back!
The smallest cub clings to her fur in the middle of her back as she walks. It is so cute! The other two cubs seem jealous, and run behind mom as if to say "I want a turn!" After a little while, mom stops and the littlest cub slides off. Now the threesome have some wrassle time together which I also enjoy.
But mom has her nose to the air and perhaps she smells something that concerns her, because she changes course and now heads downhill past the snow-patch to a forest. The cubs really like running downhill! We watch happily until they disappear into the trees.
Oh yay! That was completely worth missing wolves for!
Laurie & Dan are headed home to Silver Gate with their groceries and I tell them it's time for me to start for Hayden Valley. I am staying in Canyon tonight in an attempt to spot the Canyon Pack.
Just west of the Yellowstone River Bridge, I spot a lone black bear walking past that strange conglomerate rock balanced on the hill to the north. He tops out very quickly so I keep driving.
A bit further on I notice a gorgeous pileated woodpecker working on a hole he's made in the Tower Junction sign.
I spot several mule deer in the woods south of Rainy Lake and now the sun finally comes out! I stop at several of the high pullouts to enjoy the views. I see the plume of steam from Coffee Pot and remember my hikes there.
On the other side of the pass I stop again to enjoy the views, and test my memory of which peak is which.
When I get to Hayden Valley I find it surprisingly empty - of people I mean! As my sisters and I noticed a few days ago, it has really not greened up here yet. Lamar is way ahead of it.
I pull in at Alum Creek and immediately notice a golden eagle tugging at a brown lump in the river shallows. Hmmm, I think, this could be the carcass I heard about, an elk that the Canyons took a day or two ago.
It does not look fresh, but perhaps there is enough left to attract them for one more visit this evening. I head to Grizzly Overlook and scope around, seeing pelicans, bison, elk and geese.
The wind is pretty fierce and the sky still threatens rain, and it's mid-afternoon so I decide to drive down to Lake and repeat the journey I took with Doug Dance and his mom back in October.
To my surprise I find The Lake is still frozen! About 20 feet from shore the ice turns to chunky slush and thick waves of it lap at the beach.
I find a big bear jam out here, all for a grizzly grubbing on a hillside opposite Mary Bay. I have always heard of bears being seen near here but this is my very first. He's a big boy alright, a large, healthy boar, roaming amid the trunks of an old burn.
I watch the bruin a while, then drive on, going as far as Steamboat Point. The remnants of a recent rock slide are visible - strong enough to have torn out a good chunk of the retaining wall on the north side of the road. With all the rain that's fallen it's certainly no surprise. Several road crews are working to repair it.
The sun comes out again so I stop to take in the amazing views and read the interpretive signage, but the wind chases me back for my fleece. I am amazed again at the wild, reckless beauty of this wonderful Park.
Now I head back to Canyon, check in at my cabin and have a bit of a meal. Then back I go to take up my vigil. As I pass Otter Creek I see a photographer with big glass and stop to see what he has. It's a beaver!
I get out to Grizzly Overlook and take my position. It turns out to be a stunning evening, although in the end I remain wolfless. I run into a couple from Colorado that I met last year and we have a fun time chatting and devising various ingenious wind-breaks.
We watch a lone cow elk walk bravely across the flats. She begins to trot with her head up high, then starts to prong. She seems to be performing for any wolves that might be watching, but if they were there, they did not show themselves. Perhaps she can smell them and is taking no chances. She stops pronging and moves warily along the river bank past the carcass and eventually into the trees out of our sight.
The rest of the evening features two pair of sandhills, (including one set mistaken for wolves by three sets of arriving visitors), various other elk and bison, a beaver out by the point, 3 bald eagles and a blue bird in the very tippy top of a douglas fir.
We hear that a grizzly is being seen north of AlumCreek and I am quite tempted to go there to see him, but in the end I don't want to give up perfect wind-break parking spot!
As the sun sinks, more elk appear, until it becomes a whole herd moving along the river bank, past the line of trunks. At one point they make a fine living picture - beautifully silhouetted against the water.
I still prefer the Lamar, but Hayden Valley was awfully pretty this evening.
At 9:15 I call it quites and make my way slowly back. I see many more elk on both sides of the road as I go. I also see a young person walking just up from the "Brink of the Falls" drive. I slow down and she puts up her thumb. She is a Canyon employee who was visiting the falls and mis-judged the time. I give her a ride back to the dorm. I sure would not want to be walking that road after dark, with all the bears and bison around!
Today I saw: 3 black bears, 6 grizzly bears (including 3 cubs), 2 beavers, a blue bird, bison (with calves), sandhill cranes, 3 coyotes, mule deer, 3 bald eagles, 1 golden eagle, elk (with calves), geese (with goslings), pelicans, a pileated woodpecker and the spirit of Allison